Sir David Attenborough taking up the People’s Seat at COP24. Credit: The Independent
And, this week and into next, we’re following events at the most important gathering in the world right now, the UN’s climate change conference — otherwise known as COP24 — in Katowice, Poland.
This meeting of world leaders and climate change champions is where we agree the rule book to turn the Paris Agreement of 2016 into tangible, measurable action.
Here’s our quick guide to the make-or-break decisions happening at COP24.
What is COP24?
The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to ultimately decide on the ‘rule book’ for greenhouse gas emission targets. These targets were set during the monumental COP21, from which the Paris Agreement was formed.
Over two weeks, the common rules for measuring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emissions will be decided, along with climate finance allocation.
It’s the first United Nations meeting since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released in October. The report was a stark wake-up call — to keep the global warming increase below 1.5C, governments need to slash emissions of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030 and be a net zero by 2050.
Why is it important?
It was announced yesterday that fossil fuel emissions in 2018 are increasing at the fastest rate for seven years. It follows a small increase in 2017, but the three years of flat emissions before that led to hopes that emissions had already reached their peak. With predictions for further increases in 2019, we are even further from reaching our climate goals.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said climate change was already “a matter of life and death”.
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, at COP24. Credit: (Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)
A World Health Organisation (WHO) report released at the conference earlier this week revealed that tackling climate change would save at least a million lives a year just by cleaning up air pollution. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said: “The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century”.
The predicted changes to our climate, due to greenhouse gas emissions, will cause more natural disasters and extreme weather conditions. It threatens safety and food supplies. 24 million people were displaced by weather related disasters this year. As climate change begins to alter patterns of disasters, we can expect these figures to get worse.
What’s happened so far?
Leaders from almost 200 different nations are attending COP24. Notably, high-level representation from the United States is missing. President Donald Trump announced the US intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. (However, legally the nation remains party to it until at least November 2020). Read more about how the ‘Trump effect’ is threatening the Paris agreement.
It means that UN’s Climate change secretariat Patricia Espinosa will need to find a delicate balance to secure a deal.
It’s not just politicians who are participating. Sir David Attenborough spoke at The Opening Ceremony, as he took up the ‘People’s Seat’ at the conference. This was an attempt by global leaders to connect the public to what can sometimes be a complex debate. And who better to do that than world’s favourite naturalist (not naturist, as some news media mistakenly reported!).
“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of year. Climate change,” said Attenborough.
“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.”
Greta Thunberg is a Swedish 15-year-old activist who made waves earlier this year by refusing to go to school until her government acted on the climate crisis. Her speech took a different tack to Attenborough’s, and urged others to take responsibility for climate change — as dependence on the nations leaders has so far been unsuccessful.
“For 25 years countless of people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise,” said Thunberg.
“So I will not ask them anything.
“Instead I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.
“Instead I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.”
Meanwhile, the World Bank announced £157 billion in funding over five years to support countries taking action against climate change, doubling its current five-year funding. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, said the poorest and most vulnerable people were at the greatest risk, and urged other financial institutions to follow its lead. We’ve talked before how climate change is impacting poverty worldwide.
One of the aims of COP24 is to ensure so-called developed countries commit to helping developing countries to help them meet their emissions goals.
Elsewhere recommendations have been released to help countries cope with the forecast increases to the numbers of refugees that will be on the move across borders as a result of climate change. If adopted, it will be the the first-ever UN global agreement on climate-related migration.
At the end of the first week, the biggest sticking points is financial aid for poor countries. Money is always a contentious factor in climate talks, and this is the main factor delaying a decision.
And away from the conference, it’s not been an easy week either. Following the worst rioting in Paris in decades, French president Emmanuel Macron has scrapped a fuel tax rise. The ‘gilets jaunes’ or ‘yellow vest’ protests that arose have invited criticism from COP24 conference attendees, who highlighted the importance of smoothing the transition to carbon taxes.
How you can get involved
Pick up the challenge to #takeyourseat by Sir David Attenborough.Through this hashtag you are invited to participate, to voice your views, to answer polls, and to share your ideas with people from around the world.
Keep the momentum going. Take the time to learn how our climate has already changed. This series of charts puts it into (quite alarming) perspective. And then ask more of our political leaders, and make your opinion heard. Write a letter to your local MP, to your government, or one of the 100 companies who are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Governments are making commitments to big changes at COP24, but individuals can play a role too. Choose renewables to power your home, if you haven’t already. Go carless. Eat less meat. For other ways to do your bit, read our five step guide on how to be a climate hero.